Frugal Ideas For The Office

The other day I opened my office door after coming back from running an errand during my lunch break and someone asked about my lights being turned off.  “Do you always turn your lights out when you close your door?”  I laughed and explained it was just habit.  However, as I thought more about it I realized I had brought many of my frugal habits to the office, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Here are a few ways to be a frugal employee, starting with the one that inspired reflection on the topic.

Turn off the lights when leaving an office or conference room.  This is by far the easiest solution to implement.  Just because you are not paying the electric bill it doesn’t mean you cannot take the same energy-saving approach at work as you do at home.  Flipping off a light switch requires very little effort, but it will reduce your company’s energy usage.  Not only is conserving power good for the environment, but things like this have a cumulative effect on decreasing your company’s overhead expenses.  This will help your boss look better by improving the company’s bottom line, and increase your chances for career success.

Try to eliminate printing to hard copy.  This one is easy for me, because if it winds up on my desk in paper format it is likely to get lost in the shuffle.  I would much rather have something electronically stored with an adequate backup system.  A good electronic file system is more searchable and secure than paper copies floating around the office.  It is also more friendly to the environment and cuts down on the overhead costs of stocking reams of paper.  I also like to order my own business cards, rather than take the 1,000 box supply that comes standard with a new job.  When I left my last job I had 996 left.

Repair or upgrade technology when possible.  Often times when a PC is bogging down a simple increase in RAM, a disk cleanup, or a defrag would to the trick.  But impatient employees, and spend-happy IT personnel often just replace the machines with a new one and “retire” the other machine.  Take time to investigate what the real problem is and make small corrections as long as possible to extend hardware’s useful life.  If a replacement is in order try to find ways to save money on your next computer.

Have a pot-luck lunch rather than going out as a team. Pot-luck lunches are like the ultimate brown bag at the office.  Create a theme, such as “Backyard BBQ,” and set up a sign-up sheet for team members to select something to bring.  If some team members aren’t up to cooking a dish ask for plates, forks, cups, drinks, etc.

Spend company money like you spend your own.  This idea assumes that you are a frugal spender at home.  At my last employer I was given a healthy per diem to cover food expenses while on the road, and if entertaining clients or going out as a group with fellow employees I could charge dining expenses to my company credit card.  I wasn’t much fun to go out with!  I didn’t see a need to eat steak and lobster every meal simply because someone else was paying for it.  My typical meals on the road looked like a continental breakfast in the hotel lobby, Subway for lunch, and a grilled chicken salad or similar for dinner.  I typically spent about half my daily food per diem, and rarely used the credit card for allowed entertainment purchases.

Don’t be cheap when it comes to raises.  One mistake frugal managers make is being cheap when it comes to handing out raises.  The people most valuable to an organization should be near the top of the pay scale, and it’s your job as a leader to recognize their value and compensate them accordingly.

What are some other ways to be frugal at the office?


  1. That’s a picture of Intel cubicles, isn’t it? I recognize a lot of the small details…

    From an Intel-ite in Chandler…

  2. The amount of waste that happens because the employee thinks, “it’s not on my dime!” is incredible.

    It becomes much clearer when you have your own business and you start to see how much it really costs to be in business. You’ll often hear business owners say, “I don’t get out of bed for less than $X a day.”

  3. @Adam: Regarding the picture–not sure where they are from as the Flickr reference isn’t very descriptive. You may have more luck clicking through to the photo’s owner at Flickr and perusing his other shots, or his profile page.

  4. Yes, I find myself bringing frugal habits from home into the workplace as well. Turn off lights in rooms that I leave and no one may use for a while, check. Upgrade computers rather than getting new, check. (Of course, I tend to keep my machine in tip-top shape out of habit anyway.) Reduce paper consumption, check and double-check. I tend to let people know not to give me paper as I really don’t like to have it on my desk. (Though at every job, I find that I have to keep a small stack of it around for historical purposes.) And I tend to brown-bag my lunch — more for my personal frugality than for work, but it ends up wasting less of my work day as well.

    It is astounding to find out how little people care about reducing money usage, especially as Elliot said, when it is “not my dime”. Wasted AC usage, wasted electricity, wasted water, and wasted money (overspending).

  5. My colleagues often question why I turn off my monitors at the end of day and print double-sided. My boss once asked me to print one-sided. So wasteful. Humans need trees. 🙂

  6. Yep, it’s Intel…I looked his name up in the internal phonebook and also confirmed it on his photostream…it’s a different location, but all the intel cubes look the same. 🙁

  7. For the lights, why not use occupancy sensors? You can set how long the lights stay on when there is no movement, and/or how sensative to movement the sensor is, then you don’t have to worry about remembering. We use them at home in the laundry room, garage, and closets. They’re best used in places like I mentioned, or your office at work, where it won’t pick up “stray” movement and come on unnecessarily. In a previous house we used it in the kitchen because it made sense. Now we have more of a great room style, so it wouldn’t work as well.

  8. @Maha: Great idea on the motion-sensored lighting! I’ve seen this implemented in a few places in restrooms, conference rooms, etc. and it is a great way to conserve electricity without having to rely on people remembering to flip the switch!

  9. Over the course of the last 3 years I have slowly convinced all my work buddies to brown bag their lunches. Once we finish lunch we take a 20 minute stroll outside. Honestly, we only go out to eat once a month. The $ savings are in the low thousands by now.

  10. One aspect of being frugal and wise (or a good steward) with your employer’s resources also includes not sealing from them – no taking pencils, pens, paper, personal copies, doing personal work on work time, etc. Goofing off at work is the same as wasting resources – being honest goes hand in hand with working for the Lord.
    Thanks for your great posts; I enjoy reading your blog.

    Alyson LID 01/27/06 (IA China)

  11. @Alyson: Ah, good point about not stealing. Sometimes people think just taking a few pens, or a ream of paper or two isn’t a big deal, but stealing is stealing.

    @Andy: I wish so badly my employer would go to a 4/10 work schedule! Up to this point we haven’t been able to convince management.

    @Ron: Remind me of this when Girl Scout cookies go on sale!

  12. The motion lighting sounds like a good idea except when they don’t install a very good one. I did some contract work for an office where you had to move at least once every 15 minutes or the lights would go out. This works fine for the conference rooms and lunch area but in an office one can sit typing or reading on their computer and remain motionless for quite a while.

    I agree with the 4/10 work schedule. Unfortunately, that’s not the way the world works. Just like everyone has to come to work at 8am (or nearly so) and leave at 5pm (if you’re lucky). On that same note, how does one get a mortgage quote, insurance quote or deal with the a school when everyone works at the same time you do?

    I don’t steal office supplies from work. Often, I have to provide my own quality pens and pads at work because I’ll be darned if I’m writing with an 8cent BIC special all day on a cheapo pad.

    I am definitely all for banning fund-raising at work. It’s too much of a pressure situation for people and almost forces people to spend money. Besides, those same offices often have a sign out front that states “No Soliciting!”

    One small note, @Andy. Depending on your company’s IT setup, it may not be a good idea to hibernate or turn off your computer when you leave. Many shops auto-update the OS patches and antivirus software over the network to all the client machines. Check with your IT personnel before doing anything different with your PC.

  13. i know writing this im a burned out employee thats tired of her company but as the economys bad its too hard to change now.
    our city offers free recycling pick up. i suggested we have recycling for cans etc, not just paper thats shredded. they told me it wasnt feasible. same company has skylights and inside lights hanging from them. and what is with companies providing desk lights and overhead lights??? i dont need that much light. id really prefer it dimmer. but at the same time we have to share staples and air cans. i now just buy my own. its easier that way.
    needless to say i work for a big wasting company. i wish they were better.

  14. I don’t know, the whole “I convinced my coworkers to brownbag it” just isn’t my style. I feel like that would be like talking someone into my religion or something like that. I don’t like to “reveal” that I’m into personal finance and investing to the degree that I am, and I work with traders and finance pros. Maybe it’s the industry I’m in, I don’t know. But with bigger companies I feel like “hey, they have the money. They can afford it.” Which is a bad attitude, I know.

  15. oh i so totally agree with writers coin.
    everyone i know, even people i know who dont have the money will go out for lunch. i bring my lunch everyday religiously and have for 6 years. they look at me like im poor but im the one saving the money id rather spend elsewhere. i just cant eat all that food at lunch. a sandwich tides me to dinner. same people stop for breakfast too. i see it everyday. i carry my recyclables home for our recycling since our work wont do it. what gets me is hearing people complain about money then they go out to lunch. i just dont understand people.

  16. If you really want to save energy/money, see if your gas and electric company will do an energy audit of your building. One of my first jobs out of college was working for, then later with, our gas and electric company. If they still do it, they’ll come in, inventory all of your energy sucking equipment, offer suggestions for areas to reduce energy and show what the payback would be of implementing various ideas. Some ideas they’re likely to suggest are replacing inefficient heating and air units with efficient ones and possibly zoning the building, planting deciduous trees around the building, using compact fluorescent bulbs, occupancy sensors, using higher rated insulation, insulating boilers, etc.

  17. My father is a business owner, and it is very difficult when your employees believe you have lots of money sitting around, so it doesn’t matter that I’m not productive or that I swipe stuff from the office. If he could get his employees to stop smoking, productivity would jump exponentially (Better health, a financial boost for the employee, and no more smoke breaks)

    I am a Pastor and would like to start recycling here at the church. The amount of paper that we throw away is criminal. Any tips on how to get this started when we don’t have local pick up?

  18. I particularly liked the last 2 suggestions. Spending the company’s money as we would spend our own. So many decisions are made based on what would be the impact on me, rather than the company. This also has an impact on integrity. Say, choosing a flight just because of the FF miles that are accrued.

    And on raises, I cannot understand how a company can say that “people are their greatest asset” and yet shaft them regularly.